SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Boise State’s defense knows that stopping the run is the key to stopping TCU in Monday's Fiesta Bowl.
The Horned Frogs rank fifth in the country in rushing with 256.50 yards per game and do so with a balanced attack that features three running backs each with more than 600 yards.
“With TCU, they really don’t want to be a balanced attack,” Boise State defensive end Ryan Winterswyk said. “They want to run the ball then they’ll throw screens and things like that. Gameplan-wise, it’s pretty simple. We have to stop the run. And then on the screens and things, we have to get out and cover some ground.”
Stopping the run seems simple enough except the Horned Frogs feature three running backs with three distinctive styles. Senior Joseph Turner, who leads the team with 732 yards and 11 touchdowns, would be considered the power back. Freshman Matthew Tucker, who is second on the team with 667 yards and eight touchdowns, is more of a finesse and speedy back. Redshirt freshman Ed Wesley, who has 630 yards and four touchdowns, is the team’s best receiving threat out of the backfield.
The trio, in conjunction with quarterback Andy Dalton, has rushed for more than 200 yards three times this season and rushed for more than 300 yards in four of the last five games.
“This is not a team where you take away one guy and you can say, ‘Now we’ve got them,’ because they’ve got that guy, they’ve got this guy, they’ve got too many of those,” Boise State defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said. “So, you’ve got to know where you fit within the defense, play your assignment and you’ve got to tackle well. That’s going to be the No. 1 thing, tackling well.”
The Broncos know the TCU running game well. During the Poinsettia Bowl last season, the Horned Frogs rushed 51 times for 275 yards against the Broncos and scored two rushing touchdowns.
But the passing game wasn’t as prolific as it is now. The Horned Frogs threw for just 197 rushing yards in that bowl game, the seventh time they had thrown for fewer than 200 yards last season, and they basically relied on one receiver to make all the plays. This year, Dalton has become more comfortable in the passing game and several receivers have contributed. While the Frogs don’t have a standout receiver like Jimmy Young was a year ago, they have four receivers with 398 or more yards. Dalton has thrown for 2,484 yards this season, a career high, and has 22 touchdown passes, which is more than double his previous career-high.
Wilcox said one of the toughest things about studying TCU’s offense is that they run multiple plays out of the same formations and don’t tip the plays they’re going to run. He said it’s also tough to know the extent of the offense because TCU's large margins of victory allowed them to run a basic offense to victory. The Horned Frogs won 10 games by double digits.
Boise State safety Jeron Johnson said it’s easy to get caught up in TCU’s running game and forget the pass. But that doing so could be a costly mistake.
“They do want to run the ball initially, but they’ve hurt teams passing the ball as well,” Johnson said. “It’s kind of difficult trying to play both run and pass because you come up in the run and the receiver is behind you, touchdown. You know, once they get past you, FOX, who’s doing the game, is going to have the cameras on you saying you did something wrong. That’s really what I don’t want, personally.”